23rd September 2008 (take note – old date!)
One thing I am learning as I enter the fourth year of this farming apprenticeship is that “farmer” really encompasses a whole truck load of professions. You have to be part meteorologist, part mechanic, part stockman, part accountant and part stand-up comedian. You also have to be part vet. I especially like this vet part. Maybe I am channeling Steven King’s sense of the macabre but when something has to be butchered around here I take a special interest in proceedings.
Take last week for example: a cow got bogged in a dam and had to be put down. Rather than waste her, Brian cut up the meat for the dogs and when he was finished I performed my own little autopsy. Now this really isn’t as gruesome as it sounds as she had been bled so things weren’t all blood and mush. Bovine anatomy is really quite fascinating. The muscles, which are the meat we eat, are all enclosed in their own silvery sheaths and it is possible to run your hands along every sinewy strand. I found myself picturing my own legs as silver-sheathed meat (yeah I know – this spins people out at the pub too). I found the heart with valves several centimetres in diameter and the pale pink lungs, which looked as though they were never designed to hold air. A cow is a ruminant, which means she had four stomachs to digest her food. The first stomach is the rumen and has tendrils like seaweed. The second stomach looks like honeycomb and the third like pages of a book. I lost the forth stomach somewhere in my amateurish explorations.
A week after this episode, with my interest in anatomy well and truly piqued, I took myself off into the paddock to find an old cow skeleton which I spent two sessions putting back together. I got stuck for a while but armed with a diagram that I pestered off the local dog doctor I think I got most bones where they were supposed to be.
Any comments from experts are most welcome.
The cattle yards are always a good place to brush up on life as a bush-vet. Brian is particularly skilled in this field and he takes a no-nonsense approach (actually he takes a no-nonsense approach to most things). When a cow has prolapsed (meaning either the vagina or uterus has been spat out) Brian reaches for the brown sugar and the lubricant and pokes the whole lot back in. I must admit I get a little squeamish watching him in action – must be a girl thing. I don’t get nearly as squeamish for the bull testing.
It is rather unproductive to have bulls chasing cows but firing blanks so once a year they are tested. The real vet came along last week with all his gear and asked which one of us wanted to be at the business end so feeling empowered I said “me”. Now testing bulls for fertility is humanely done in what seems an awful way. A huge electric cucumber is attached to a battery and inserted in the bull’s rectum (my job). The power is turned up until the poor old sod squeezes a bit of the good stuff out of his penis. This is collected by the vet and all stories are then told. Are there many men, dear Mob, now feeling a little squeamish?
Staying in the yards it was time to castrate some boy calves using a lambing ring. This involves grabbing two testicles and inserting them through a small green ring. My first attempt was on a very young calf and I can tell you that they have very slippery nuts. Brian got sick of waiting for me so took over then went to find a bigger calf whom he assured would be a lot easier. Well it might have been a lot easier but the calf was also a lot older and stronger, so after he kicked me in the shin and the knee, and I had grabbed both his nuts, we decided to call it a draw.
Pep just looked at them with disgust.